Aug 242012

(TheMadIsraeli follows up our full-album stream of the debut album by Stealing Axion with this review.) 

I have been so hyped for this album it’s hard for me to even quantify.  Stealing Axion absolutely wowed me with their self-titled free EP (which I reviewed here); it combined progressivism, the best groove in the Meshuggah/Textures school of thought, and a refined sense of dynamics between brutality and melody.  The band demonstrated that they knew how to write really fucking good metal and how to hit a broad spectrum of notes while carrying all of it off equally well.

In my mind, Moments is the quintessential modern metal album, demonstrating the best of what modern groove has become in heavy music.  I am going to warn NCS readers, this album is DEFINITELY an exception to the rule, with close to a 50/50 split of brutal and clean vocals going on here.  As with all exceptions to the rule though, I TRY NOT to review something that breaks our mantra unless it’s really fucking good.  Moments IS really fucking good, I assure you (unless you’re just a kvrmudgeon).

A few facts you need to know about this album before I begin: It’s a concept album about the end of the world.  Because of its particular story, the song flow is a bit askew from what you might expect (e.g., the album starts with one of the softest songs).  It is LONG (77 minutes), and a lot of the longer songs are peculiarly structured.  You won’t get the payoffs you’d typically expect on what feels like a buildup, and songs don’t end on the notes you’re absolutely convinced are coming, but by the same token some of the moments of brutality on this album completely wreck your intestines when you least expect them to pop up.  This is a truly progressive album.

Stealing Axion’s sound, in its essence, can be described as follows:

There are hints of Meshuggah, Textures, Hacride, and like bands  EVERYWHERE, in the best way possible.  Much of the riffing on the album channels these bands; this is through and through a progressive groove metal album (NOT A DJENT ALBUM, THERE IS A DIFFERENCE).  The riffs rely on the punch of the low-tuned guitars and the rather twangy tone achieved in them thanks to the particular guitar/bass tone combo (and btw, the bass tone on this album is fucking badass).

The drumming is heavily syncopated and highly technical (the groove emphasis gave drummer Blake Ferris a great deal of room for adding flourish).  There is, of course, the expected ambience, the clean guitars that hang over the distorted sections, the clean/brutal vocal layering, and an emphasis on using expansive slow grooves to deliver crushing fatalities.

It’s what the band does with these elements and how they mix, match, and contort them that gets me.

The first song, “Mirage of Hope”, is the kind of opener that may throw people off, considering it’s not as heavy as most of what follows it.  Its verse riff is a melodic, yet semi-twisted affair, where the notes are slightly bent out of tune to give it just enough grit while Dan Forbrich wails over the music with his powerful vocals.  I’d say that he pretty much employs death metal vocals over the band’s music, something that is definitely odd considering its instrumental content.  This is counterbalanced by the complex and thick walls of clean vocal harmony from Josh DeShazo that go on in the other parts of the song.  It’s got a catchy theme, too, an open-note palm-muted machine-gun rhythm with a melodic lead over it that’s pretty tasty.

The next song “Solar” is a bit different.  A waltz-tempo number with a moody verse punctuated by a bass line that throbs like a human heartbeat.  The riffs when the heaviness kicks in are sludgy and cognitively dissonant as all fuck.  This is punctuated by the clean vocal lines that fall in and out of key with odd notes that still fit.  It all builds up to a riff that’s brutal and sounds disoriented and confused, in a way, with harmonic dissonance brought in with the bass playing odd harmonies (it’s awesome that the bass is audible enough on this album to pick that stuff up).  The song ends with a total Meshuggah Destroy Erase Improve moment that induces teeth-gritting wall-smashing.

“Everything Or Nothing” kicks the brutality up a notch.  After a soothing acoustic intro and what feels like a pretty mellowed-out melodic idea, the guitars kick in and after carrying on for a bit, the song’s simple, groovy-and-grinding-as-fuck-verse riff kicks in.  This song is a steamroller that just mows down the listener, flattening you and then eviscerating the corpse into chunks for good measure.  The coup de grace on this yummy groove sammich, however, is the song’s outro: a droned low-tuned atom bomb that competes with Meshuggah’s heaviest moments.

“47 Days Later” doesn’t relent one iota either.  Its cadence sounds like it would be employed by Lamb of God and it has the hammerhead impact of Fear Factory.  The riffs are unbelievably fat, machine-precise, and noodily.  I also highly enjoy the intense burst of black metal blasting fury midway through the song.

“The Unwanted Gift” fades in with a flesh cutting arpeggio that is soon accompanied by pronounced rhythmic chugging to give it some impact.  Musically, this is probably the most simplistic song on the album, but it’s effective because the riffs are catchy and the clean vocal lines really stand out.  Very nice, heavily fusion-influenced lead guitar work in it as well.

“Eventide” is one of the softest songs on Moments despite being one of the few that makes exceptionally noted use of the 8-string low end.  Only one part in this song includes brutal vocals, with the rest being all clean singing, and it’s structured more like something of a ballad.  It’s undeniable, though, that this song is hypnotic.

“Collapse” is a bone-grinding groove-machine 8+ minute epic.  It’s full of dissonant riffs, eerie atmospheres, and polyrhythms out the ass that twist your brain into the shape of an ankh.  This song is all about the build-up to its last three minutes:  Rage-face-inducing brute-force groove.

“It’s Too Late Now” is definitely the softest song on the album.  Beginning with tranquil keyboards and introducing itself further with shimmering clean guitars, the song feels like and sounds like a lamentation.  The melodies are calming, yet there is a slight unease throughout the whole song.  The song peters out and moves into “Sleepless”, a track that is heavier but still uses loud and soft dynamics to create a build-up to the album’s finale.

“Moments Part 1” and “Part 2” are not the same song, but two epic-length numbers that brutalize yet pull emotion from the listener through the force of their conviction.  “Moments Part 1” is full of twisted, catatonic riffs that punch through you with the force of a piledriver until the song’s drama-filled four-minute prog-fest midsection.  It features lots of guitar solos, dramatic melodies with fusion shifts in key, and a brutalizing breakdown that ends all of it amongst a menagerie of horror-filled guitar feedback and dissonance.

This is where “Moments Part 2” kicks in, with a concrete-splitting intro that calls back immediately to the old days of Meshuggah — a titanic blast of caustic drums and guitar/bass chugs that cut through your very bones into one of the heaviest riffs on the entire album.  The riffs continue along the lines of the Fear Factory-esque vibe of the previous song, but hit with even more ferocity and frantic desperation.  The song’s first solo sounds like what must happen when a brain goes through the most violent of seizures.  What follows is a soaring display of guitar acrobatics over an extremely long solo section.  The ensuing next six minutes are absolutely enrapturing. Whether it’s the melodic sections filled with complex vocal harmonies or the sections that jackhammer your solar plexus into shards, you can’t stop listening to it.  The song ends with a quiet, somber piano outro that hits an odd, disorienting, and fearful note.

Moments is more than simply an impressive debut. This is pushing the envelope on a style I think many have pronounced dead by this point.  Not yet.  Not with bands like Stealing Axion around.

I usually do that bullshit where I talk about each member’s performance, but that’s really pointless here.  This band, at its core, is a collective of insanely talented, insanely aware musicians.  Hearing songwriting this good, this convincing, and this absorbing is rare.

Also, the mix by Acle Kahney of TesseracT fame fucking rules.  So clear, so thick, so heavy.

One of my top 10 picks of the year.  YOU MUST buy this.  They definitely deserve the money.

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Moments CD can be pre-ordered here or here (U.S.) or here (EUR). You can connect with Stealing Axion on Facebook via this link. Our full-album stream is at this location.

  17 Responses to “STEALING AXION: “MOMENTS” (A REVIEW)”

  1. Also go over to for a contest involving a Stealing Axion Q&A video. The three most interesting questions get free album/shirt packages.

  2. Great fucking review, man! Really appreciate your coverage of this album. It feels like some reviewers just don’t get this band or their sound. I’ve been obsessed with this release ever since I first found about about them on NCS – you guys have my undying readership thanks to that btw. haha

  3. I’m only just listening through the first track now, but a lot of what you’re saying in the review reminds me of Uneven Structure’s ‘Februus’- an album length musical movement, equal parts clean and heavy singing, Meshuggah influences. If you haven’t heard it check it out, on my ”best of’ list from 2011 for sure. The overall sound is fairly different though from first comparisons with Stealing Axion.

  4. This introduced me to this band, and although I usually don’t really like bands described as ‘modern metal’ I’m so far VERY much into this album. It sounds amazing. Thanks for the share and the nice review!

    .. And the album cover is sweet too btw.

  5. Throw the argument that djent isn’t a genre out of the window for a second, and instead let’s take a look at how it is most commonly defined:
    1. Syncopated grooves? Check
    2. Extended range guitars? Check
    3. Use of ambiance? Check
    4. Mixture of clean and harsh vocals? Check

    I don’t see how this album is NOT djent. Hell, you even deny it at the start of the review, then sort of toy with the idea near the end (“This is pushing the envelope on a style I think many have pronounced dead by this point.” – I can bet that the implied style is not “progressive groove metal”). So much for consistency.

    Furthermore, I don’t see what is so terrible and so untr00 about a band being djent. If you again take djent to be a legit genre, which it really motherfucking is (so what if it originated from an onomatopoeia of a chord?), then keep in mind that it is not just about chugging on the lowest string. This is called BAD djent, and it is perfectly normal for it to exist. Shit bands reside in every subgenre of every genre of music ever. Do not take the style to be what the lowest-tier bands practice, rather take into account the bands that execute it well. Speaking of which, there have been quite a few positive reviews of bands whose style is or resembles djent (Aliases, Uneven Structure, Vildhjarta, and now this), yet I’ve seen no negative ones. Bearing in mind that you probably dislike the style, I don’t suppose you would take the time to check out enough of the bad kind as to actually have an objective opinion. So then, why the hate? /end rant

    That one little sentence which got me pissed aside, I’m just glad that the band are getting the praise they deserve, and hopefully I’ll think the same way of the album after fully hearing it.

    • I’m only on track 6, but to me it’s a progressive album with strong Meshuggah influence. Where Opeth mixes (or at least used to mix) prog and death, this mixes prog and djent, but prog is the dominant gene in each case.

      Then again, I think genre has more to do with songwriting than musical arrangements, instrumental techniques, or lyrics. Saying this is “djenty” is perfectly reasonable, but calling it djent is to completely ignore half of it. It’s way too reductive.

    • Those who pay attention to my writing on this site would realize I’m the designated djent guy of the site for the most part =P.

      Your definition is for modern djent. I look at the bands who first began this style like Meshuggah, Textures, Hacride, CiLiCe, Corprofago. These bands ARE NOT, in ANY WAY SHAPE OR FORM of the same musical persuasion as the modern shlock out there. Yes, Vildhjarta and Uneven Structure are amazing bands I give a full on endorsement to (and Means End) but besides that, what you speak of is modern djent. The problem with DJENT is that it’s a one trick pony. It’s a style that isn’t very deep and doesn’t have much to offer (hence why it’s so over-saturated as well. It’s easy shit to write). The reason I make the progressive groove metal distinction is because THERE IS a difference (and I’d argue even a huge one) between bands like Periphery and Tesseract and bands like Textures and CiLiCe. The djent of old incorporated polyrythms yes, it was groove based MOSTLY but retained heavy thrash and death metal underpinnings. Ambiance wasn’t a big part of it and barely any of those bands had metalliac or all digital guitar tones like is expected now. Stealing Axion are DEFINITELY more of this school of thought. The only things truly in common with modern djent here is the fact they use extended ranged guitars so called.

      Just tell me how Meshuggah, Textures, Hacride or Corprofago are the same as Periphery, TesseracT or Monuments. I’d love to hear your oh so enlightened opinion.

      • “The problem with DJENT is that it’s a one trick pony. It’s a style that isn’t very deep and doesn’t have much to offer (hence why it’s so over-saturated as well. It’s easy shit to write)” – Again, you are referring to djent BANDS that are a one trick pony. Obviously it’s not all that bad since you praise certain bands yourself. It may just be that the style is hard to get right. But out of all the bands that do nail it, it is easy to see that none of them are really identical in sound i.e. employ a different technique/approach. A true “one trick pony” genre would be funeral doom. There, bands either get it or don’t. There is only one sound that bands of the genre aspire to reach, and all that do are considered “good”, yet they sound almost exactly the same (with the only possible difference being the usage of keyboards and/or clean vocals).

        “Stealing Axion are DEFINITELY more of this school of thought. The only things truly in common with modern djent here is the fact they use extended ranged guitars so called.” – Check back at the 4 characteristics I listed. Your own review and comment confirms that Stealing Axion: a) use syncopated grooves ; b) mix clean and harsh vocals (“at a ratio of about 50-50”); c) indeed use extended range guitars (“so called?” why the need to be cynical about something that is just a plain fucking fact?). And uh, I’ve listened to the EP tracks more than enough to know that they use ambiance. Fuck, they have a more ambient sound even than what is standard fare for djent/djenty bands.

        Also, you did not in any way address my argument about your inconsistent views on djent (the 2nd “paragraph). No I did not denounce your use of the term “progressive groove metal”, I simply meant that you were referring to djent, and not that style, when you claimed it to be a “style pronounced dead by many”. Since you portray Stealing Axion as somewhat of a savior of this dead genre, I find it contradicting how you previously dismiss them as not being djent.

        “Just tell me how Meshuggah, Textures, Hacride or Corprofago (sic) are the same as Periphery, TesseracT or Monuments.” – So bands have to sound THE SAME in order to be grouped under the same GENRE? Not to abuse what was probably a wrong choice of words on your part, I will not go on much with that argument. Needless to say, I doubt anyone would look at it as a good thing if all bands of all genres sounded the same. Surely you agree (?) that a band falls under a certain genre not by sounding identical to every other such band, but by bearing the most important characteristics of said genre. So then, how do the former batch of groups you mentioned fall under the same genre as the latter? Well, let’s take Meshuggah for one. They definitely employ the aforementioned grooves/chugs (duh, they almost kinda sorta invented them). They have always used either 7/8 strings or heavily downtuned 6-strings, both of which serve a similar purpose (to obtain a really heavy, “djenty” sound). And I’ll be damned if they don’t have their fair share of ambient and clean breaks in between all the madness. What about Textures? Ditto, except they also use the clean/harsh vocal contrast, too. In all honesty I haven’t heard Hacride and Coprofago (though I’ve been meaning to), but I’ll bet they are quite in the ballpark since you are making the comparison in the first place. I could go on ranting about this until no end, but that would lead nowhere.

        And the icing on the cake:

        “I’d love to hear your oh so enlightened opinion.” – Again the needless cynicism. Mind you that I only criticized your review, not your character (all in an effort to build a constructive discussion, but I guess that’s not really possible). And even if your cynic remark WASN’T uncalled for, I’d still advise you against being cocky towards your readers. No, I am not trying to sound full of myself, I am just making the observation, as one of your readers, that behaving in such a way can only yield negative outcomes for you, even if they are minimal (i.e. the resignation of “just one” reader).

        Rant fucking over, srs

        • You apparently took my response in a hostile tone =p I didn’t mean for it to come off that way.

          I just don’t see the point even in the original comment. Why does it matter if I’m essentially snubbing djent or not?

          • I….I don’t know. I’m stuck home with a stomach virus and I’m bored as all fuck. The point was I’m kinda sick of people bashing djent, whether as a word, sound, or genre, and it was really strange for me that even in a positive review of what I consider to be a djent album, the term was still discarded.

            Basically the TL;DR version is LEAVE DJENT ALONE!!!1!

  6. I haven’t listened to everything on this, but I am going to chime in on a bit of the commentary anyway.

    From what I’ve heard, this is progressive metal with some djent elements, but I do not see Stealing Axion as djent. This is the kind of stuff I like, because the band has songs that end up being interesting to listen to. The somewhat original but yet unispired and uninteresting songs are a problem I also see with intrumental only bands and the majority of neo-classical (or really any kind of virtuoso wankery); all the skill in the world doesn’t mean you can write a decent song (or more than one or two if you get lucky).

    Now, I’ve never been able to get into Meshuggah and some of their polyryhmic contemporaries, while I was impressed by Tesseract when I first heard them. Maybe I haven’t heard enough from them, but they just doesn’t click with me. Since I’m not a fan of the band (or even familiar with most of their work), I’m not sure if they even classify as djent, but I do know that most any band that creates music that has parts that remotely resemble what Meshuggah does – or simply gets labelled as djent – the comparisons come out, just as a lot of other progressive metal bands get compared to the likes of Dream Theater or Symphony X, or the handful of bands that get compared to Tool because they have the same kind of trippy, bass enhanced sound.

    It’s not a problem to use a band as a reference point, but when they are the standard by which anyone else afterwards (or sometimes even those that came before) is compared to with scrutiny, it does everyone involved a disservice. Are Meshuggah, Textures and Periphery djent? I dunno, but if they are, does that mean that the more recent bands are mere imitators? Or what about the fact that you can hear some of this stuff in others bands’ music before a lot of people started paying attention to Meshuggah?

    As has been said already, there is shitty djent and good djent, as with any genre. In what I’m hearing from Stealing Axion as I type this, they’ve taken some of the good stuff you can find and applied it to progressive metal. Does this make them a djent band? Is Meshuggah actually a djent band, or simply the ones that are credited with a sound that has become a popular target to emulate?

    And does it really even matter? Good music is still good music, shitty music is still shitty music and we all have our own tastes.

  7. Might as well toss in my two cents on this discussion. I tend to agree with Elvis that debating about whether or to what extent this album is djent is a distraction. However someone wants to classify it, the music is very good. Like all metal, it shows some identifiable influences, and I guess comparisons to other bands are inevitable (hell, I did it myself in the intro I wrote for the album stream, referring to Textures), but what matters most is the quality of the songwriting, the skill of the performances, and the quality of the production — all of which I think are excellent.

    I suspect the debate about whether the music belongs in the djent classification stems from the fact that, at least in some metal circles, djent has become a dirty word, standing for what has become an over-saturated, highly imitative artform in which the songwriting has become formulaic and the music mostly indistinguishable from one band to the next. People who like this album but subscribe to that view of djent as a genre are going to want to distance “Moments” from djent. People who love djent are going to want to claim the album as a particularly well done example of the genre. Personally, I don’t care enough about djent as a metal genre to get too interested in that debate. I’m happy to take “Moments” as it comes, and happy to see all sorts of people claiming it as their own.

    • In the right hands, djent can sound interesting. What I get out of djent is that it’s a different approach to playing a guitar, one that seems to work best in conjunction with progressive metal. That way, you can actually get some decent results instead of something that just sounds a bit different than the same recycled riffs that have been metal’s bread and butter for 40 years.

      While nowhere near as large a sub-genre, one can see similarities to grunge and nu-metal, both of them considered trends that would outlive their usefulness (and really, how many of those bands are around now, much less making new, good (or just decent) music?). Some great stuff, some really shitty stuff and a whole lot in between. And it’s the stuff in between the great and the shit that tends to suffer the most, especially when it’s not something “pure” enough or if it’s newer than those placed on the pedestal.

      Speaking of purity, one need only look to black metal to see how any progression is received. You can the purists who insist on a stripped down, barely tolerable sound and that anyone who does otherwise is untroo. Yet, there’s a lot of stuff that can easily be called black metal if you ingore that knuckle draggers who only accept a shitty sounding tape from 20+ years ago as worthwhile. Fortunately, there are a lot of metalheads that accept that there have been new bands since then and that one doesn’t need to have been a part of the original scene or have a shard of Dead’s cranium to be worthy of your time.

      Of course, there are also blackened forms of metal that take certain elements of black metal, just as there are progressive metal bands that take elements of neo-classical that don’t necessarily become shred bands and I think you can take djent’s ingredients and not become a djent band. So, a band like Meshuggah may not do it for me while Tesseract does, and so far, I like what I hear from Stealing Axion. Are they djent? Don’t know, don’t care. Judge them on their own merits and not what label someone’s given them because of how they perform some of their music.

  8. The vocals in this are atrocious. What a shame.

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.